In Defense of the Prime Minister
By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
September 26, 2019
It is easy to criticize the Prime Minister. I also take my shots when he makes egregious errors. This is why I suggested that he write what he says before he pronounces on national and international issues. His critics also need to be cautious before they condemn his failings.
The government, with all of its shortcomings, has acted responsibly with regard to the Venezuelan refugee crisis. The PM reported with pride, "American politicians commended this country for its position in treating with economic migrants coming to this country." The politicians appreciate his achievements since they are dealing with a president who has intensified his crackdown on migrants and asylum-seekers.
I watched Ashley John-Baptiste's "The Displaced." It is a biased report of what is transpiring in our island regarding Venezuelan refugees. Although T&T has absorbed the highest percentage of refugees in the world, he dismissed this important fact in eight seconds.
John-Baptiste reports that 40,000 Venezuelans have migrated to T&T, a number equal to 3.5 percent of T&T's population. Three hundred and twenty-nine million people live the United States. Imagine the commotion President Donald Trump would have made if 11 million Hispanics entered the US during the period in which the Venezuelans entered T&T.
It was irresponsible of John-Baptiste to gloss over this fact especially when the U.S. Supreme Court "allowed the Trump administration to bar most Central American migrants from seeking asylum in the United States while the legal fight plays out in the courts." Such a court order "effectively bars most migration across the nation's southwest border by Hondurans, Salvadorians, Guatemalans, and others" (New York Times, September 11, 2019).
John-Baptiste's report was unfair to the government and our people in that he did not mention the tremendous sacrifices that have been made to accommodate these refugees. Rather, he emphasized that our government does not have a refugee policy in place, which is understandable given our size and inability to have anticipated such a problem.
The United Kingdom is about to break away from the European Union although "Freedom of Movement" is enshrined in the EU constitution. President Emmanuel Macron is planning to place tighter restrictions on immigration. He told his parliamentary colleagues "it was time to confront a crucial issue in French politics and be 'extremely firm' in applying asylum rules" (Financial Times, September 19). Having refugee policies in place do not prevent people from migrating to where the grass is greener.
Shankar Teelucksingh made a valid point when he criticized the government for not applying to the United Nations for assistance. However, the PM argued: "Once a refugee camp is opened, it cannot be closed…. So we resolutely refuse to have any refugee arrangements in TT" (Newsday, July 23, 2019). John-Baptiste may not agree with the government's rationale, but he had an obligation to bring this fact to his audience's attention.
Orin Gordon, a former editor of the BBC, pointed out that John-Baptist's report was "superficial in parts" (Trinidad Guardian, September 19). The PM's criticism should have directed his criticism to this aspect of the report rather than quarrel with the number of Venezuelans in the country. He should have emphasized the unbalanced nature of the report.
The BBC World News, broadcast in English in more than 200 countries across the globe, has a weekly audience of 84 million. It claims that it broadcasts "a diverse mix of authoritative international news and…delivers impartial, in-depth analysis of breaking news, as well as looking at the stories behind the news—not just what is happening, but why" (About BBC World News, April 14, 2015).
The PM should have turned his gaze to the "why" of the report and how well the government has coped with the crisis. Given the worldwide presence of the BBC, the T&T government is entitled to a balanced report since it is dealing with a crisis of great magnitude? "The Displaced" did not live up to BBC's commitment to deliver an "impartial and in-depth analysis" of what is taking place in T&T.
The PM erred in his comment about the relationship between BBC and the British government. The BBC, an independent organization, "receives its funding from the British public" (Gordon). It is inaccurate to say it "mirrors and reflects British government policy" (Rowley, Express, September 19), although it may be sympathetic to it.
Our analysts also failed in their duty. Rather than analyze the inaccuracies of the program and its lack of sympathy for the government's efforts, they felt at ease castigating the PM. Prof. Andy Knight, proclaims the PM "appears defensive and as though he has a very thin skin. Yes, he needs to chill. But to complain about the BBC to the British government about the media's independence is ludicrous" (Guardian, September 19).
As the BBC is more likely to respond to pointed criticism of its programs, the PM should have complained about the implicit imbalance and bias of John-Baptiste's report and how it makes T&T look in the eyes of the world. He did this when he said the BBC did not present "our Venezuelan situation in a truthful and professional manner" (Express, September 19). This was a necessary corrective on the PM's part.
The PM lamented: "The BBC is too sacred to us in the Commonwealth for that nonsense to go on" (Express, September 18.) His complaint did not emanate from "mere peeve" (Express editorial, September 19), although such a feeling might have been implicit in his initial response. In spite of his inaccuracy about the relationship between the BBC and the British government, he was more concerned about how his country was depicted internationally and this is a legitimate and important concern.
Professor Cudjoe's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.
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